Joe Conason (born January 25, 1954) is an American journalist, author and liberal political commentator. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The National Memo, a daily political newsletter and website that features breaking news as well as commentary and analysis from influential progressive thinkers. Since 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center.
Conason was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for almost 20 years. He was also a columnist for Salon.com from 1998-2010. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications around the world including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, The Guardian, Salon, The Village Voice and Harpers.
Conason authored two New York Times best selling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). His newest book, Man of the World (Simon & Schuster, September 2016), focuses on the post-presidency of Bill Clinton. A winner of the New York Press Club's Byline Award, Conason has covered every American presidential election since 1980.
Conason was born in New York City and grew up in White Plains, New York. The family's surname was originally "Cohen". He was named after his paternal grandfather, Joseph Jacob Cohen, an organizer and journalist of the American anarchist movement during the 1920s and 1930s. Conason's father, Emanuel Voltaire Conason (1912–2008), co-owned Ellie Conason, a contemporary design and crafts store in White Plains, with his wife, Eleanor (née Levinson) Conason (August 20, 1917 – January 5, 2002). Conason earned a degree in history from Brandeis University in 1975. In October 2002, he married Elizabeth Horan Wagley, then the development director of the U.S. branch of Médecins du Monde. They have two children and currently reside in New York City.
After college, Conason was appointed co-editor of the East Boston Community News and then he joined the staff of the Real Paper, an alternative weekly based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He covered environmental, racial, and political issues for both publications.
From 1978-90, Conason worked as a columnist, staff writer, and national correspondent for the counter-cultural The Village Voice in New York City where he made a name for himself as an experienced and skilled reporter as well as a sharp commentator. His investigative reporting in 1985 exposed the hidden Manhattan real estate holdings of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos (and his wife, Imelda), thereby helping to topple their dictatorial government. During 1986-87, Conason traveled repeatedly to the Philippines to write about politics there. In 1989, he arrived in Beijing the night after the Tiananmen Square massacre and reported on the tragic aftermath for The Village Voice. After leaving The Village Voice in the early 1990s, Conason served as editor-at-large for the Condé Nast's magazine, Details, which focused on lifestyle, political, and social issues.
For almost two decades (from 1992-2010), Conason served as a columnist, political editor, executive editor, and national correspondent for the New York Observer, a weekly publication whose founder, Arthur Carter, had previously been associated with The Nation. In 1998, Conason also began writing for the left-wing webzine Salon.
During the Clinton administration, Conason's investigative reporting on Whitewater brought him national media attention, and he was a frequent cable television guest during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial from 1998 -1999. During this time, he also revealed the existence of the "Arkansas Project," a secret, multi-million dollar plan funded by a conservative Pittsburgh billionaire to find (or invent) negative material about the Clintons. In 2004, Conason was one of the first journalists to delve into the background and finances of the group known as the "Swift Vets and POWs for Truth".
In July 2011, Conason founded a daily political newsletter called The National Memo to try "to bring to readers a very sharp take on the day's news, a fair amount of original news, and aggregation." According to The National Memo's website, it aims to combine "the spirit of investigative journalism with new technology and ideas." They cover various political related stories including campaigns, elections, the White House and presidency, Congress, and beyond.
In 1992, Conason wrote an article for Spy Magazine that claimed President George H. W. Bush had cheated on his wife, Barbara. Conason explained in a later Salon article, "I examined the rumors and allegations — and knocked down most of them. Yes, I quoted many anonymous sources on the subject. But I also quoted Washington journalists Jack Germond, Fred Barnes and the great Walter Pincus — along with the president’s son George W. — denying any substance to such allegations ... If I have any qualms about the Bush story, they’re the same ones that I felt at the time. The headline — “He cheats on his wife” — oversold what we were publishing, as I told [Spy editors Kurt] Andersen and [Susan] Morrison. They disagreed. And the Spy style tended to preface allegations with the word “alleged” less diligently than other publications."
In February 2000, Conason published an investigative profile of George W. Bush in Harper's Magazine that examined his business career in Texas and how his former business partners potentially profited from state investments after Bush became governor. This story was revived in 2002 when Bush’s ties to Harken Energy came under scrutiny during his presidency.
Conason is the co-author of The Hunting of the President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton (St. Martin's Press, 2001) with Arkansas journalist, Gene Lyons. The book focuses on what he describes as a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to bring down Bill Clinton -- a term initially used by Hillary Clinton in defending her husband against accusations during his ultimately successful 1992 presidential bid -- by identifying the main people involved, revealing their tactics, tracing the millions of dollars spent on their efforts, and examining how (and why) mainstream news organizations helped those determined to bring down the Clintons. The book, a New York Times bestseller, was later turned into a documentary in 2004, which Conason co-produced.
Conason's next endeavor, Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martin's Press, June 2003), addresses what he labels right-wing bias and purporting to debunk ten lies he claims are perpetrated by conservative propaganda. This was Conason's second book to make the New York Times bestseller list.
Conason profiled Bill Clinton for Esquire magazine in December 2005, after traveling to Africa with the former president and covering the inaugural conference of the Clinton Global Initiative. The cover story, titled “The Third Term: The Dawning of a Different Sort of Post-Presidency", was later included in Best American Political Writing of 2006, published by Thunder’s Mouth Press.
The Raw Deal: How the Bush Republicans Plan to Destroy Social Security and the Legacy of the New Deal (Polipoint Press, 2005), about what Conason claims was the Bush Administration's efforts to "end Social Security as we know it", appeared in 2005 with a preface by Senator Al Franken.
Following The Raw Deal and Big Lies, Conason wrote It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (St. Martin's Press, January 2008). The title comes from Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, which portrays an American dictatorship. In this book, Conason discusses what he views as a move towards authoritarianism during the administration of George W. Bush.
During the 2016 election, Conason and Gene Lyon's created a free e-book called The Hunting of Hillary, which was primarily based on their previous book, The Hunting of the President. The e-book reviews 20 plus years of alleged Clinton scandals including Whitewater with a particular focus on Hillary Clinton.
In September 2016, Simon & Schuster will publish Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, Conason’s account of the 42nd president’s post-presidency. Conason interviewed Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton and many of Clinton's friends, aides, rivals and supporters to offer a comprehensive analysis of Clinton's post-presidency.
- Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth. St. Martin's Press. June 15, 2003. ISBN 978-0-312-31561-0.
- It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush. St. Martin's Press. January 8, 2008. ISBN 978-0-312-37930-8.
- Gene Lyons; Joe Conason (February 3, 2001). The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-4668-2873-5.
- Sarah Posner, Joe Conason, God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, PolipointPress, 2008; ISBN 9780979482212
- The Raw Deal: How the Bush Republicans Plan to Destroy Social Security and the Legacy of the New Deal, PoliPointPress, 2005; ISBN 9780976062127
- Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, Simon & Schuster, 2016; ISBN 9781439154106
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- "Spy". Books.google.com. pp. 31–38. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
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- Conason, Joe (2000-02-01). "I. The George W. Bush success story". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- "Bush's Tangled Past Is Relevant Today". 2002-07-29. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- "The Harken Energy Distraction". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- Lyons, Gene; Conason, Joe (2001-02-03). The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton (1st edition ed.). New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 9780312273194.
- "Joe Conason". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
- Conason, Joe (2003-09-01). Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (1st edition ed.). Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 9780312315603.
- "Esquire | December 2005". archive.esquire.com. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- "Table of Contents: The best American political writing 2006 /". www.buffalolib.org. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- Conason, Joe; Franken, Al; Jr, James Roosevelt (2005-10-01). The Raw Deal: How the Bush Republicans Plan to Destroy Social Security and the Legacy of the New Deal. Sausalito, CA: Polipoint Press. ISBN 9780976062127.
- Conason, Joe. "It could happen here". Salon. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- ""The Hunting of Hillary" by Joe Conason & Gene Lyons". hillarybook.nationalmemo.com. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- "The Hunting of Hillary: A conversation with Joe Conason". Retrieved 2016-08-23.
- Man of the World. 2016-09-13. ISBN 9781439154106.